FROM A SMALL WORKSHOP IN SOUTH LONDON, HARTLEY’S HAD A BIG IMPACT ON THE UK FRAMEBUILDING SCENE
I’VE BEEN FRAMEBUILDING for around three-and-a-half years. Before that, I worked as a sculptor creating large-scale pieces of art for public display. I also trained as a jeweller and silversmith. I enjoyed the practical side of things but, well, the art world frustrated me. You’d spend a great deal of time talking about your work and justifying it. To me the whole point of art is that it speaks for itself. I BRAINSTORMED WITH FRIENDS what I should do next. I enjoyed problem solving, making things and working with metal. At the time, I was cycling more and more, and became involved with the London Bike Kitchen. It’s a DIY workspace where they teach you how to fix your bike. I then attended the Vulpine summer fair and it was a revelation – I didn’t know people still made frames in this country. I thought my skills are transferable, I enjoy working with metal… The seeds were sown. I NEARLY MOVED INTO SURGERY. One of the students I taught silversmith to was a surgeon and said I had the right skillset for the profession. I was 30 and thought I’d be too old but fast-tracking was an option. I loved art and science at school and genuinely considered it, but I loved cycling too much and thought surgery would mean no time for the bike.
I HAD WORK EXPERIENCE with different people, like Rusby Cycles and Saffron Frameworks, to see what day-to-day workshop life was like. Then Jenny [Gwiazdowski], a director at the London Bike Kitchen, had her bike stolen. So she was looking for another bike and, because she’s pretty short, ideally bespoke. She cut a deal with me that she’d give me the money to go on the course at Bicycle Academy – around £2,000 – and then I’d make her a bike. It was a deal.
I SPENT A MONTH FINISHING THAT
FIRST BIKE beyond my time at the Academy. I painted it as well and, amazingly, the bright blue and red with stainless-steel flashes looked beautiful. I thought this painting lark is easy, I don’t know why everyone goes on about how hard it is. Then the next five frames I painted I messed up completely! I REALLY LOVE BRAZING, though that’s a really small part of the process. In fact, I enjoy different parts of the job depending on my mood. Last night, for instance, I was there cleaning up the shorelines of lugs against the backdrop of an audiobook by Rebecca Solnit and was totally immersed. But some days I’d be thinking this is the worst job ever! WHEN I STARTED I WAS THE ONLY FEMALE IN THE UK FRAMEBUILDING so certainly stood out. Now there are a few more. Response from people is often a generational thing. Some of the older community will be like, ‘Oh, this is novel. Well done, well done.’ I used to think it patronising but it’s sweet – in a way! The younger crowd don’t really bat an eyelid but it’ll be nice when a female framebuilding is a non-issue.
I’M ATTENDING BESPOKED [handmade bike show, Bristol, 7-9 April 2017] and will be bringing down an ultra-bespoke stainless steel road bike that I’ve been making on and off for the past six months for a customer. (Usually it takes two to three weeks.) It features a bi-laminate headtube, custom skewers and design aspects that are loosely based on a 1929 Rolls Royce Phantom. I’m also working on a top-secret project with Talbot Frameworks.
Bespoked’s the show I enjoy most but it’s a nightmare to prepare for because you put so much pressure on yourself. Everyone’s up all hours looking to create their most beautiful bike. I’ll spend now until April getting ready and stressing about it!